Forget the whole “unification” aspect of Ivan Calderon-Giovanni Segura this weekend, even if there hasn’t been a junior flyweight alphabet belt unification bout since 2003. It’s for Calderon’s Ring magazine lineal championship, which is all the belt anyone needs, but it’s more than that. In a 2010 where you can only point to a couple cases where the best boxers in a division faced one another, this is the clear division kingpin against his clear #1 contender, and the reprieve is most welcome.
Feel free to help yourself to the weird UFC boxing/mixed martial arts freak show Saturday, but Calderon-Segura is sweet sustenance for boxing fans who care more about substance than mere curiosities. You can check Calderon-Segura out via Integrated Sports pay-per-view. Stylistically, it offers the classic boxer/puncher match-up, only magnified by 10. There aren’t purer technical boxers than Calderon, and there aren’t many heavy-handed, crazed brawlers like Segura. That almost certainly won’t produce a classic fight, because Calderon bouts are notoriously slow for those who can’t appreciate all that ducking, dodging and tapping. That doesn’t mean it won’t be a part of history. Calderon, a Puerto Rican, and Segura, a Mexican, will add another chapter to the long boxing rivalry between their two respective peoples. And for once in a fight involving Calderon — one of the all-time greats in his division and, for a long time, a consensus pound-for-pound top-10 player — there are very, very good reasons to pick against him.
Calderon, as everyone knows by now, has been slowing down now for a few years. He got dropped once in two difficult outings against Hugo Cazares (not so terrible given Cazares’ subsequent performances) struggled against Rodel Mayol twice (in retrospect, also not so terrible given Mayol’s subsequent performances) and got dropped in his last fight against division stepping stone Jesus Iribe (somewhat terrible, even if he won almost every moment of the rest of the fight). Old-school Calderon used to barely lose a round, so those parentheticals have their own caveat. At age 35, he’s still a spectacular boxer, so nuanced and intelligent that when someone hits Calderon he probably feels lucky. But he’s more vulnerable than ever. The speed and reflexes he relies upon to move around the ring and dodge punches are degenerating. At 5’0″, he’s also small even for the division, and operates from the outside almost exclusively, giving away reach. Without any other way to keep an opponent off him, like the punching power he absolutely doesn’t have, that allocates him a slimmer margin of error than he once had.
If Iribe has the power to drop Calderon, Segura certainly does. Among the littlest of the little men, from flyweight on down, he has to be the biggest puncher. He weighs 108 pounds and I’d say at least 20 of those pounds are accounted for in the freaky biceps he flexes during his pre-fight introduction. He can knock his man out either via accumulation of blows and repeated knockdowns that force referees and corners to call it a night for his opponent (Ronald Ramos, Walter Tello, Juanito Rubillar, Cesar Canchila) or with one well-placed shot (Sonny Boy Jaro). His last five wins are all by knockout, rebounding from his only loss — to Cancila, in their first meeting, when he ran out of gas and got countered to death — by focusing on conditioning and being more aggressive. I haven’t noticed much improvement in his technique, because he still throws hooks at about a 180 degree arc. But in reviewing the video of him I did notice he’s not bad on defense when he pays attention to it, not that he does much; he’s at his best when he’s trading blows toe-to-toe, so why bother with defense? Nor is he fast. At all.
Calderon said that, in watching video of Segura, he thought he was a lot like Cazares. It’s true, and it’s telling. Cazares also was a sometimes-wild brawler, larger than Calderon, harder-hitting, but slower. Cazares and Segura are both 5’4″, and Segura’s reach is better still — at 69″, he’ll have six inches on Calderon. Segura has more power than Cazares did at the time. He’s slower than Cazares was at the time, but then again Calderon is slower now, too. And Segura’s boxing fundamentals are worse than Cazares’ were, as Segura had virtually no amateur career to speak of.
It’s extremely tempting to pick the upset here. What it probably comes down to is whether Segura’s unconventional offense helps or hinders him. Calderon is great at anticipating his opponent’s punches, but Segura’s crazy arsenal isn’t by the book — and even weirder is that he switches from orthodox to southpaw all the time, not like the trendy stance-switching that seems forced for so many fighters, but like he doesn’t even know he’s doing it. On the other hand, Cazares troubled Calderon by mixing in straight punches that got to the target quickly, while Segura probably wouldn’t recognize himself if he threw a straight punch even once in his life. It’d be like in superhero movies when the hero suddenly realizes he has acquired superpowers. There are other x factors: I’m still weirded out that Segura has disgraced trainer Javier Capetillo on his team, but he won’t be in the corner because he doesn’t have a license, the combination of which could have; and the fight being on Puerto Rican soil absolutely gives Calderon an advantage if it goes to the cards, which is his only way to win.
I think I’m going to go with Calderon. I am trusting he’ll show the form he demonstrated against Iribe after the early knockdown, when he looked like vintage Calderon or close to it. And I think Segura is just way too sloppy to connect as much on Calderon as he needs to knock him out, although a knockdown at some point seems likely. I’ll take Calderon by split decision, since he has five non-UDs in his last eight fights, but the second I finish typing this and hit “send” I will already begin second-guessing myself. If Segura pulls it off, he’ll have scored another blow for Mexico in a real upset and will become one of the few undisputed champions in boxing. If Calderon pulls it off, he’ll have added one of the best wins of his career to a Hall of Fame resume, which, at his age, would be an all the more impressive tribute to the value of undiluted ring savvy.
[TQBR Prediction Game 4.0 is in effect. Remember the rules.]